NATO's decision not to invite to Macedonia to join the Alliance during the just-concluded summit in Chicago sparked a volley of strong reactions, perhaps the most stinging from the prime minister himself.
By Misko Taleski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 23/05/12
Macedonia Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski gave NATO a stinging rebuke on Tuesday (May 22nd) after the organisation passed on the option to extend membership to his country due to Greece's longtime objections.
The rejection was expected by observers, but that didn't keep Gruevski from bitterly criticising NATO in an interview Tuesday with the Macedonian Information Agency (MIA).
"Such a policy of double standards, unprincipled-ness and moving away from the values they themselves publicly proclaim, I have not seen in a long time as is the case with Macedonia. They are ignoring the International Court of Justice ruling," Gruevski said, referring to a December 2011 decision in which the court concluded that Greece had violated a 1995 Interim Accord when it vetoed Macedonia's bid for NATO membership in 2008.
Gruevski's unusually frank language reflects the disappointment for Macedonians, where recent polls showed that 85% of the population wanted the nation to be a NATO member. Newspaper headlines in Macedonia called the two-day Chicago summit a "disgrace."
"Finally, somebody expressed that which the people think, being fully aware about the inequalities and realities of international politics. The choice NATO gives Macedonia to appease Greece, is no choice; we will never change nor should change our name. If NATO does not want us in as Macedonia, we should reconsider our commitment to the alliance," Borche Ristevski, 32, a resident of Skopje, told SETimes.
While criticising some of the Western leaders, Gruevski said the sole culprit is Greece, which he said has used all means at its disposal over the past two decades to slow Macedonia's development because of the longstanding disagreement over Macedonia's name.
"These countries [NATO members] I consider our friends, but they are at the same time greater friends of Greece. That is how it was in the past 21 years and that is why Greece succeeds at harassing Macedonia to the maximum, without facing serious consequences," said Gruevski. Macedonians say anything but the name "Republic of Macedonia" denies the nation's right of identity. Greece has said the name is an implied threat towards its province of the same name.
Macedonia has been recognised by more than 100 countries and was admitted to the UN in 1993, but in that body -- and most other international organisations -- is identified as "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." Macedonia applied for NATO membership in 2005 and believed that it would be accepted in 2008, but Greece blocked a formal invitation
Despite the latest disappointment, Gruevski stressed that Macedonia remains committed to eventual membership. "We will remain dedicated to materialising our strategic goal for NATO membership and will work towards it. If somebody tells the truth, it does not mean he is picking a fight with the strategic partners," Gruevski concluded.
Most analysts said the speech was a call to unite the country politically and that Gruevski –without question -- succeeded.
"Gruevski has struck a chord with the people because he is the first Macedonian leader to state things as they objectively are, despite a potential threat to his position. The interview channeled the pain Macedonians feel while affected in every way possible by Greece's blockages and obfuscation internationally," Vladimir Bozhinovski, analyst at the Institute for Political Research, told SETimes.
"The speech also lays the ground for Macedonia to define its 'red line' regarding the Greek-imposed name issue," he added.
Current and former policy makers expressed support, particularly praising the importance domestic policy continues to place on the rule of law as well as international law tenants.
"If Macedonia sends most soldiers to NATO missions per capita; if its soldiers fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq with high-level professionalism as NATO allies; if we have satisfied all standards and criteria, achieved all reforms and are not getting anything in response, then Macedonia is right to be critical about the processes and the behaviour of some states," Slobodan Chashule, Macedonia's former foreign minister, told SETimes.
"In the case of Greece, it appears here that NATO and the EU are rewarding bad behaviour. Such an approach is already very costly for the EU, and we hope it will not be similarly costly to NATO," Chashule said.